The Witches of Eastwick October 24, 2017
1 Hr., 57 Mins.
eorge Miller’s The Witches of Eastwick (1987) is a berserk, visually overblown screwball fantasy comedy. So it’s likely no accident that its headliners are as physically and performatively exaggerated as the film in which they’re acting. Leading anti-hero Jack Nicholson has Anton LeVay eyebrows and cannibalistic teeth. The brassy Cher has an ovular face and Skeletor cheekbones. The kittenish Michelle Pfeiffer has a soft-porn pout.
The dreamy Susan Sarandon has owl eyes and an earth mother radiance. In other films, these features merely enhance the scenery, acting as additional visual reminders as to why these people are movie stars in the first place. But in The Witches of Eastwick, these characteristics are crucial: in a comedy this over the top, you might as well settle on actors who look over the top, too.
The movie is set in the old-fashioned Eastwick, Rhode Island, where the days are sleepy and the lives are even sleepier. It’s the age-old modern village wherein everyone knows everyone’s business, and wherein it’s widely understood that, if you aren’t religious, white, and/or a devoted Pottery Barn customer, you probably don’t belong. Those are only a few reasons why our trio of leading female characters despise living in the town, but they’re much too set in their routines to pack up their discounted suitcases and escape. The women are Alexandra (Cher), a shrewd sculptress; Jane (Sarandon), a mousy, recently divorced music teacher; and Sukie (Pfeiffer), a likable newspaper reporter.
All are so dissatisfied especially because they have no one to come home to. Alex is a mother and widow, Jane a perpetual single woman, and Sukie an abandoned mom of six. Weekly girls’ nights start. But this is a dangerous thing: unbeknownst to them, the women are witches, and their lady lunches have essentially kickstarted a makeshift coven.
So all their fantasies about ideal men have literal repercussions. Days after a particular hearty session, in barges Daryl Van Horne (Nicholson), who apparently came from nowhere. First announcing himself to Eastwick at one of Jane’s musical recitals — he obnoxiously fell asleep in the back row and snored with the same ferocity as your freshman year roommate — he sets his sights on the three women. Seduction’s the name of the game. And they go for it, in spite of initial skepticisms. But as the monotonous Eastwick starts to become awakened by ghoulish behaviors and goings-on — with, not to mention, strange sensations felt by the minds and bodies of the friends — it becomes clear that Daryl is not simply an eccentric stranger. Maybe he’s even ungodly.
And The Witches of Eastwick is not merely an eccentric comedy with fantastical undertones: it’s also a star showcase for its leads, allowing for (particularly in Nicholson’s case) performances that bring to mind the wilder days when Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges were the kings of comedy. With just a dash of Death Becomes Her (1992) special effects dependence, of course. Your taking to it depends on how much you can stomach the visuals over comedy stance. But it’s nonetheless still stunning to behold: the film’s design is creatively lavish in a The Scarlet Empress (1934) meets David LaChapelle sort of way, all high ceilings, opulent clothing, and spastic body movements. But disappointingly enough, the film is more whimsical than it is funny ha ha, and because the ensemble’s so capable of getting big laughs out of audiences, the lacking of deep-seated guffaws bums. But these performances are so good — Nicholson’s a total comic hotshot here, befit with Jim Carrey facial elasticity and the go-for-broke physicality of Buster Keaton — that The Witches of Eastwick’s not completely working as a comedy isn’t all too ruinous. The star-studded, lightweight fantasy of it all is much too enticing. B+